Apology demanded from Fla. athletic association for denying football teams use of loudspeakers to pray

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/01/28/apology-demanded-from-fla-athletic-association-for-denying-football-teams-use-of-loudspeakers-to-pray/

(CNSNews.com) – Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal organization dedicated to the preservation of religious liberty, is demanding that the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) issue a written apology for not allowing two Christian football teams to use the loudspeakers at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl to pray before their 2A state championship game last month.

Dr. Roger Dearing, executive director of the FHSAA, denied requests by two private schools – Cambridge Christian School (CCS) in Tampa and University Christian School in Jacksonville – to use the loudspeakers to broadcast both teams’ prayers before their big game on December 4.

At the time, Dearing told CNSNews.com that “the issue of prayer, in and of itself, was not denied to either team or anyone in the stadium. It is simply not legally permitted under the circumstances.”

But at a Tuesday press conference in Tampa with CCS headmaster Tim Euler and CCS Lancers kicker Jacob Enns, Liberty Institute senior counsel Jeremy Dys told reporters that Dearing “is wrong on the law, and very wrong on the law as a matter of fact.…As it stands, the Florida High School Athletic Association has broken the law.”

“No one could believe that two Christian schools playing in a football game against each other and asking to pray, no one would confuse that with the speech of the state, ever,” Dys pointed out.

“The law in this country is very clear,” he continued. “You are allowed to pray in public without the government telling you you can’t do that.”

Hiram Sasser, Liberty Institute’s deputy chief counsel, also sent a letter to Dearing on Tuesday stating that “your actions amount to unlawful illegal viewpoint discrimination against the private religious speech of CCS…The Supreme Court of the United States has made clear that such viewpoint discrimination, even in a nonpublic forum such as a military base, is prohibited.”

Sasser addressed Dearing’s contention that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibited him from allowing the two Christian high schools to use the loudspeakers to pray, stating that “the speech at issue was by twoprivate schools to which the Establishment Clause does not apply.”

“By rejecting our client’s request for pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker because of its religious viewpoint, the FHSAA unlawfully prohibited CCS’s private religious speech. The mere fact that the prayer would have taken place within a ‘public facility’ is irrelevant; the prayer was the constitutionally protected private speech of CCS and thus could not be censored or banned because of its religious viewpoint.

“In doing so, [FHSAA] violated our client’s civil and religious rights under state and federal law,” the letter stated

Besides a written apology, Liberty Institute is also demanding that FHSAA provide “written assurances that, in the future, the FHSAA will abide by the U.S. Constitution.”

“If the FHSAA refuses to meet these simple demands by February 25, 2016, our clients are prepared to seek redress in federal court,” the letter concluded.

However, FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers said that he did “not anticipate an apology” would be made to CCS.

“First, this is not a prayer issue. Both schools did engage in organized prayer before and after the game. The issue is the use of the public address system,” Sobers told CNSNews.com.

“Previous Supreme Court cases all stated that state actors cannot allow prayer over a public address system because it’s the same as an endorsement of prayer. That’s where it gets into legal entanglements.”

— Written by Barbara Hollingsworth